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Pirates notebook: Burnett happy to start opener

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 7:48 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates outfielders Alex Presley and Jose Tabata wait their turns during base-running drills at Pirate City Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez works in the bullpen under blue skies Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez takes batting practice Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez smiles during the final work-out at Pirate City Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates outfielder Jerry Sands runs down a flyball during drills at Pirate City Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald throws in the bullpen at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett (center) talks with teammates next to pitching coach Ray Searage between drills during spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pittsburgh can be frosty in early April, but right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett isn't worried about flurries falling when he pitches for the Pirates on Opening Day.

“Maybe I'll mix in a snowball,” Burnett said dryly.

Burnett will take the mound April 1 against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. It will be the first Opening Day start of his 15-year career.

“I've been waiting a long time for it,” Burnett said Thursday. “It's exciting. What better place to do it than Pittsburgh? They've been so supportive.”

Burnett, 36, was in line to start last year's opener but began the season on the disabled list with a broken orbital bone.

“Opening Day is special,” Burnett said. “You set the tone from Day 1. It's never just one game. We always say that, but I think we mean you should treat it like it's one game. But I'd be lying if I said I was going to treat it like a normal start in July. It's going to be a packed house, a crazy atmosphere. It's going to be great.”

The Pirates have dropped their past two season openers. Last year, Eric Bedard started and took the loss in a 1-0 setback against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park.

Outfield battle under way

The battle for outfield playing time begins Friday in the Black-Gold scrimmage at McKechnie Field. Alex Presley (center field) and Jerry Sands (right) will start for the Black.

Starling Marte (left field) and Jose Tabata (right) will start for the Gold. Most of the starters — such as Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Russell Martin, Clint Barmes and Pedro Alvarez — will not play in the 5 13-inning game.

Pitching assignments set for games

Left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke will start the Grapefruit League opener Saturday against Tampa Bay.

Chris Leroux, Bryan Morris, Mike Zagurski, Duke Welker, Vin Mazzaro, Brooks Brown and Ryan Reid also are scheduled to pitch. The lengths of their outings will depend on pitch counts.

Right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) will start for the Rays.

Right-hander James McDonald will start Sunday against Atlanta at McKechnie Field. Jonathan Sanchez, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Josh Wilson also will pitch.

Right-hander Julio Teheran will start for the Braves.

DeJesus off WBC roster

Infielder Ivan de Jesus was removed at his request from Puerto Rico's roster for the World Baseball Classic. De Jesus wants to remain in camp with the Pirates and try to win a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Sanchez OK after hit

Catcher Tony Sanchez was sore but intact Thursday after taking a ball off his chin the day before during batting practice.

Sanchez, who has suffered a broken jaw twice, blocked a pitch that then struck him on the underside of his chin.

“It was scary,” Sanchez said. “It came up and hit me square, and I had to stop for a minute or so. I'm not sure how fragile (the chin) is after those other injuries, but it's OK today.”

Show of power

Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen put on a power display during batting practice on Field 1.

Several balls clanged off the roof of the batting cages beyond left field, and a few landed in the swampy weeds in right.

Alvarez launched a shot that smacked halfway up the center field batter's eye.

“Just like Willie Stargell,” observed Manny Sanguillen.

McDonald still finding rhythm

McDonald had a bumpy bullpen session.

All of his stuff, especially the curveball, was great when he threw from the windup. But when he switched to the stretch, McDonald sprayed the ball up in the zone.

“It's about getting into your rhythm and timing,” pitching coach Ray Searage told McDonald after the workout.

Manager Clint Hurdle also isn't concerned.

“They're not issues; they're just comfort zones he's working through. He's got some emphasis on tightening up his delivery and his release times. He needs reps. It's nothing anybody's losing sleep over. It's just something we're mindful of.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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